I avoided eye contact with the foreign man holding a cardboard sign next to the stop sign of our town’s Wal-Mart. Instead, I focused on the toddler playfully twisting against the grip of a slender woman. The child’s face was jolly in contrast to her solemn expression as she watched her partner beg for money.
The plea was written in black marker scrawled letters, “Lost Job- Money for Food- Anything Helps- God Bless.”
My heart began to beat hard in my chest.
“No Lord. They’re probably scammers. Maybe even dangerous. I can’t stop.”
Dangerous? Holding the hand of a child?
I slid my vehicle into the line of endless cars passing by the deplorable sight. No one stopped to give aid. The weary couple standing in front of their faded red van seemed to be the age of my own daughter and son-in-law who were expecting my first grandchild within the week
How can this mother and father be begging? What poor choices have they made that brought them to this last resort? A few dollars will not fix what has happened to them.
It seemed as if all the passengers in the other cars were pretending, as I was, that the begging family was invisible.
Maybe if we don’t look, they won’t be there. God, these homeless, jobless, resource-less people don’t just need money, they need work and a place to live and management skills and good sense. They are probably living out of their van. Surely they have family. Surely God, you have other resources for them”
“There is a child involved. A CHILD. You cannot ignore a child. Go back”
(Some say that being led by the Spirit is a celestial experience. I say it is the equivalent of being pestered. )
The harassment by the Holy Spirit did not cease, so I turned my car around. My actions were mostly for the peace and quiet that I knew would eventually be mine again but only if I obeyed.
I pulled back onto the Wal-Mart drive and swallowed repeatedly against the rising ache in my throat. I was sad for the plight of the family (or scammers) whichever way it was. I was also angry. An innocent child factored into the situation, and God knew I only had a measly $32 in my wallet. I could go to the bank and get so much more, but I also knew that nothing I did would be enough to fix the couple’s situation.
In retrospect, I know God didn’t care that I felt inept and futile. He wanted me to face the begging couple in the time frame and resource ability that I had at the moment. He didn’t need me to feel confident or comfortable. His Spirit only asked that I share in the discomfort and apparent failure that framed the hopeless situation. It all felt like the equivalent of water being poured through a sieve.
How in the world will $32 dollars significantly help a young family caught by misfortune?
Under my breath I muttered, “This is foolishness.”
Upon my return, I saw the couple and the van, but the line of cars was gone. I pulled up, rolled down my window, and held out my hand. The young father grasped my single outstretched hand with the human warmth of both of his. The tangible contact jolted me. I choked out a blunt tactless question that was not what I planned to say.
“What happened to you?”
He was gentle and eager to explain. His accent was unique. The woman behind him watched in silence as the toddler tried to pull her towards me.
“I lost my job.”
“Where are you from?”
“Houston. I had a job there but I lost it.”
I probed deeper.
“Are you from Mexico?” (I sensed he was not, but it was a normal question.)
“I’m from Moldova.”
“Moldova?” I was stunned.
“Moldova. You know? It’s in Europe.”
I nodded. Engrossed in the contact, I did not see another benefactor approaching. It was a Caucasian woman, someone like me, who extended her hand and offered him money.
“They’re hiring at the factory here,” the local woman said.
“I don’t have a green card or papers. They won’t hire me.”
“Are you getting your green card?”
“Maybe next year.”
The woman caught my eye. She fell silent
I couldn’t make sense of the situation. My eyes connected with the mother’s eyes and I asked the name of the baby. She answered but I could not understand.
My time was up. I reached across the seat into my purse, dug out the $32 dollars, and gave it to the father.
“It’s all I have now. I wish it could be more.”
A repeated, “God bless you,”
GOD BLESS YOU
……was the man’s expression of thanks. The woman nodded her thanks but still kept a tight grip on the child and maintained her distance.
“God bless you,” I echoed.
I drove away and my mind burned with an image of the black marker scrawl on the cardboard sign.
Lost Job- Money for Food- Anything Helps- God Bless
I cried the five miles home. I could not fathom the situation. I felt the urgency to return to the little family immediately with a copy of a bible that I had. The version was designed for mothers and contained words of encouragement about the value and purpose of being a mother. Perhaps the woman would read and learn about God’s love for her. I would tuck more money in the middle as a bookmark, and I would insist that the man let the woman have the bible.
When I arrived home, I told my husband and teenage daughter about the encounter. My story got mixed up in my jumble of tears, and I had to repeat myself.
God? Why is this experience so emotional for me?
I encouraged my daughter to drive back to Wal-Mart with me.
On the way back, my daughter talked about how we are so “blessed.” To us, sometimes it seems almost unconscionable of God to grant excess to one family and let poverty rain on another. Since we fall on the excess end of the spectrum, we are often overcome with excessive guilt.
My daughter agreed with me that even if this family was “scamming” the entire world, their actions were even more sad with a young child in tow. I silently wrestled with the idea that perhaps the woman was being trafficked and shuddered at the implication of this.
Lord whatever it is, YOU watch over them. YOU created them. WE cannot help them with what they truly need. ONLY YOU can do this. I prayed silently.
At a stoplight, my daughter prayed aloud that we would find them and that they would receive the bible.
When we arrived in the parking lot, the van and family were gone. My daughter insisted we drive up and down the rows of cars and eventually all over town looking for the red van. Eager to deliver the bible and cash, she badgered me to hit the beach, the other grocery store, and the parks, and as the sun slid down into the horizon, I drove one more time past Wal-Mart. I explained to her that we had to stop looking. I told her God was faithful and He would love the begging family and bring them to a chance to accept His truth, as He does all men. He only asks us to obey His call, but He is not limited in His love for others by what we do.
To her, and in a small way, to me, it seemed that our efforts and the bible with cash were destined to be part of a lost opportunity to share in the feeding of souls.
Was it a loss?
Was our effort “lost” concerning the feeding of souls by a loving God?
What happened next flipped my perspective.
Seizing a teachable moment, I asked my daughter the question I was inwardly asking myself as we drove deflated back home in the night.
“Honey, what can we learn about God in this experience? No about us…but about God? What does it say to you about a God who motivates us (His children) to help someone in need by sharing His word and His resources?
She thought for a bit and then said, “I was so angry earlier with you, mommy, when you asked me to clean the floor. But now I realize I should be thankful that I even have a beautiful floor to clean! That family did not even have a floor. I have so much.”
My daughter’s words were precious. The spiritual child that was missing earlier, (overcome by a selfish temper), was now back and “feeding” on the truth of God.
A light went on in my head. There was more than one “hungry” child in this encounter.
My daughter needed a spiritual “feeding.”
And I needed a handout,too.
What did this experience say to me about God?
It said this.
God has so much more for us in store than we can ever imagine. In a greater way than me driving around with more money and a bible looking for that homeless couple, God seeks for us and waits with His word and His resources to “feed” us far beyond what we see. He uses homeless people. He uses mansion people. Anything and everything, even things that seem futile, God meets us there in those “things” to help us understand His truth.
We just need to be present.
My daily challenge is to be spiritually present and waiting for His next move!
Sharing this story is embarrassing because what it said about me and my reaction was not what I expected. The reality of homelessness and circumstances that bring homelessness about are not so simply judged.
I am to be less like a storehouse of God’s resources and more like a water lock, keeping His blessings and resources moving to where they are needed.
“For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” Isaiah 64:4
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
2 Corinthians 1:3, 4
“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:15-17
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Colossians 4:5, 6